Book Review: Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

“They call this an orphan train, children, and you are lucky to be on it. You are leaving behind an evil place, full of ignorance, poverty, and vice, for the nobility of country life.”

Orphan Train is a fictional story based on factual events in American history. In the 19205, many orphaned children born of Irish immigrants were boarded onto trains, sent from crowded Eastern American cities to the rural Midwest. Families who needed servants, farm labourers or more children would come and see the orphans and take whoever they wanted home. Vivian Daly was one such orphan who found herself on an orphan train at just nine years old. In present times, she is a 91-year-old, living on her own, tormented by her troubled past.

Enter teenage rebel Molly Ayer, a beneficiary, or rather, victim of the sometimes-flawed modern-day child welfare system. As punishment for one of her petty crimes, she has to take on a community service position to help an elderly woman — Vivian, clean out her home.

In spite of the vast age gap, their lives share similar parallels. Vivian’s voice and courage touched Molly, who came to see her as an inspiration and role model. In turn, Molly teaches the old lady that it is never too late to learn something new, and hope is never too much to ask for.

The horrors of Vivian’s story, which continue to ring true for less fortunate children in many parts of the world today, are a page turner. It is impressive how the author has turned a heartbreaking and distressing situation into a feel-good story by the end of it. In spite of the heavy subject matter, the writing style manages to be charming and uplifting, sometimes channelling humorous sarcasm.

Some readers however disliked the common negative stereotypes found in the characters. They also found Molly to be unlikable due to her bratty behaviour. It would also be prudent to note that the book features some swearing and coarse language.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

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